Three-year journey brings Mars rover to rim of crater

After a journey of almost three years moving over Martian terrain, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the red planet’s Endeavour crater to study rocks never seen before.

On August 9, 2011, the golf-cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater’s rim. Opportunity drove approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers) since climbing out of the Victoria crater in 2008.

Click here to expand the image below.

The foreground in this image is covered with iron-rich spherules, nicknamed ‘blueberries,’ which Opportunity has observed often since the first days after landing. They are about 0.2 inch (5 millimeters) or more in diameter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Click here for an expanded panorama view of the image below.

This panorama shows Spirit Point. There is also a small crater named Odyssey visible on the rim, with the interior of the Endeavour crater beyond. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Endeavour crater, which is more than 25 times wider than Victoria crater, is 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. At Endeavour, scientists expect to see much older rocks and terrain than those examined by Opportunity during its first seven years on Mars. Endeavour became a tantalizing destination after NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period.

Matthew Golombek, a science team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said:

We’re soon going to get the opportunity to sample a rock type the rovers haven’t seen yet. Clay minerals form in wet conditions, so we may learn about a potentially habitable environment that appears to have been very different from those responsible for the rocks comprising the plains.

Artist’s illustration of one of the Rover twins. Image Credit: NASA/JPL et al

The name Spirit Point informally commemorates Opportunity’s twin rover, which stopped communicating in March 2010. Spirit’s mission officially concluded in May.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched August 12, 2005, is searching for evidence that water persisted on the Martian surface for a long period of time. Other Mars missions have shown water flowed across the surface in the planet’s history, but scientists have not determined if water remained long enough to provide a habitat for life.

Technicians reopen the lander petals of one of the Mars Exploration Rovers before their launch in 2003. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003. Both completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004 and continued years of extended operations. They made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.

Bottom line: NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the Endeavour crater to study clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period. The rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater’s rim on August 9, 2011.

Via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

New Mars Rover Curiosity now has a landing site

August 11, 2011

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